The Dutch FA had not arranged even a single friendly for new boss Thijs Libregts to try his way before the start of the World Cup qualification. This is an assessment of the squad situation ahead of the qualification opener at home to Wales on September 14:
The goalkeeper position belonged to PSV’s Hans van Breukelen, who was 31 at the start of the qualification. He had been the first choice in the Netherlands since taking over for Ajax’ Piet Schrijvers back in ’83. Only Feyenoord’s Joop Hiele had got the occasional international other than van Breukelen since then. The pair were still the two goalkeepers held in the highest regard in the Netherlands, though behind them were both Ajax’ Stanley Menzo and also a former Twente ‘keeper by the name of Theo Snelders, who had just moved to Aberdeen in Scotland prior to the start of the 1988/89 season, seeking a new challenge. Libregts did seem to have some capable people to opt for between the sticks.
At the back, the Netherlands could play with a backline of three or four, depending on the circumstances. Libregts’ predecessor Michels had utilized PSV defender Ronald Koeman, famous for his wicked shot, as libero, and there seemed to be little reason as to why the new boss would change this. Whenever the Dutch were with three at the back, the younger of the two Koeman brothers in the side would usually be accompanied by the stylish Frank Rijkaard, who had just made the move from Real Zaragoza in Spain to AC Milan, where he would now complete a trio of wonderful Dutch talent, joining Gullit and van Basten at the Rossoneri. The experienced Adri van Tiggelen, who had completed two season in Belgium with Brussels side Anderlecht, would typically be used in a man marking capacity. However, van Tiggelen was also capable of playing at both full-back positions. Should Libregts wish to go for a four man defensive line, then PSV stalwart Berry van Aerle could easily slot into the right-back position. Behind this quartet, there had been a further three defensive members in the squad for the European Championships: Ajax’ Sjaak Troost, Fortuna Sittard’s Wim Koevermans, and Roda’s Wilbert Suvrijn. They were all with limited international experience. Further, versatile former Ajax defender Sonny Silooy, now with Racing Paris, had been heavily involved at international level the previous year, and there had been the odd player featuring once or twice as well, such as central defenders Joop Lankhaar from Den Haag and John de Wolf from Groningen.
In midfield, there was the ever dependable Jan Wouters in the holding role. He was capable of performing both in a central duo as well as in a trio. Veteran playmaker Arnold Mühren had stepped down from the international stage following the European Championships, and he would leave a vacancy for Libregts to try and fill. Ruud Gullit was able to slot into an attacking midfield position ahead of Wouters, and another couple of strong midfield options were Gerald Vanenburg and Erwin Koeman, both of whom were able to play both in a central three as well as down the flanks in a four man midfield. Aron Winter and Berry van Aerle were two further players who could fill a right-sided position, whilst Ajax winger John van’t Schip could play further afield should Libregts wish for a more attacking alternative along the right hand side. Recent PSV recruit Hendrie Krüzen, indeed a member of the European Championships squad, was an alternative in a left wing role. Another candidate was Ajax’ 22 year old wide midfielder Rob Witschge, yet uncapped. He could possibly challenge for a wide left position in midfield.
Up front, there seemed little reason to look further than Marco van Basten. Wim Kieft, the PSV striker, had done well as an attacking option off the bench, scoring the incredibly important winner against the Republic of Ireland in the final group stage match during the summer. Team captain Gullit was definitely a candidate for a second striker’s role as well. Behind them, there were a host of alternatives. John Bosman had recently joined Mechelen from Ajax, and was an aerially strong forward. René Eijkelkamp of Groningen and John van Loen of Roda were two more. Hans Gillhaus, yet another PSV player, had featured twice during the qualification for the European Championships. It is not as if the Netherlands were lost for options. Not for either position. The strength in depth seemed overwhelming.